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McChrystal: Strategic Partnership With Afghanistan

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

The commander of NATO and U.S. forces in Afghanistan is talking today about what it will take to win. General Stanley McChrystal says it will take years, not months. He says that despite an 18-month window to begin withdrawing U.S. troops. Today, McChrystal spoke with NPR's Steve Inskeep at the Pentagon. And Steve, why does General McChrystal say it'll take years?

STEVE INSKEEP: Partly, Robert, it's because they are fighting an insurgency and this is something that is always slow, that requires a lot of patience. But partly, also, it's because of who they want to take over in the next few years. They want to train, as you know, hundreds of thousands of Afghan troops. Now, it's not hard to find those troops. It's not hard to find recruits in Afghanistan, even to find recruits with combat experience. This country has been at war for decades. The real problem, General McChrystal says, is finding leaders, mid-range officers with the experience and the discipline to lead that force in a counterinsurgency. Let's listen.

General STANLEY MCCHRYSTAL (Commander, International Security Assistance Force, U.S. Forces Afghanistan): I think that that leadership, the maturity of the leadership � the sergeants, the captains, the majors are critical for the long-term stability of the force. So I think we need to build upon the natural willingness to serve and sacrifice that we have in the force, the heart of the force. But we need to increase its maturity.

INSKEEP: If you wanted to grow, say, 1,000 U.S. Army majors who were skilled and competent and well-trained, how many years would you want for that task? You'd want seven or eight years, wouldn't you?

Gen. MCCHRYSTAL: It takes a long time.

INSKEEP: And it will take a long time to train Afghan officers, Robert, which leads to another question - remember, U.S. officials have stressed they'd only begin to withdraw from Afghanistan in 2011. So, what happens after that? That's what I asked the general.

I want to understand a little bit better the length of time that you're really thinking about to make a significant difference here. Afghan officials have said maybe in five years they're ready to take over. Is that a more realistic window for getting closer to the end of this project � five years?

Gen. MCCHRYSTAL: I think it's all stages. We have offered a strategic partnership to Afghanistan, to the people of Afghanistan that guarantees them that we are there for them over a number of years. And I won't put a number on it, but it's a number of years. But in the future years, I think it is a partnership that is much more like advice. It's very much not like combat forces, because I don't think they'll need them.

INSKEEP: That's General Stanley McChrystal speaking today at the Pentagon.

SIEGEL: What else did you ask him about this?

INSKEEP: I wanted to know what else they need to do to win and we focused a lot on the question of protecting civilians and also getting foreign experts into the country, persuading them to come, because so far they haven't traveled to many parts of the country. And winning what is in a very real sense, as McChrystal says, a political campaign. It's not about hearts and minds. He says it's simplistic. It's about winning credibility and legitimacy with the Afghan people. And we'll talk about that some more tomorrow on MORNING EDITION.

SIEGEL: Well, thank you for staying up so late at night to talk with us about it today.

INSKEEP: It is late for me, but I'm glad to do it.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's Steve Inskeep. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.